Houston is playing championship-caliber baseball in April

Are the Astros giving us a preview of October?

Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

With their current winning streak of nine games, and coming off a red-hot week that included sweeps of the Yankees and division-leading Mariners, I believe it's totally fair to take a moment to embrace and appreciate what we've seen from the Astros recently. Just like it wasn't the time to hit the panic button after the 2-5 start, I'm not here to tell you the Astros are destined to win the World Series at 11-5. Yet, they are playing like champions recently, and it's been a blast to watch.

Altuve playing like an MVP

Jose Altuve was able to create a complimentary streak to the team's winning streak by hitting a home run in five straight games, capped off by a huge grand slam in the win against the Mariners on Saturday night. The streak came to an end on Sunday, but he maintains a seven-game hitting streak, five of those being multi-hit games which has his average up to .328 on the season. He's seeing the ball as he has in so many of his 200-hit seasons, which has him on pace for another as he continues to be a huge spark to the offense.

Contributions from 1-9

Another facet of this team that is reminiscent of the 2017 championship season is their potent lineup that has threats from top to bottom. The cliché has applied to the Astros so far; there's no easy out for pitchers against this team. Of the players that have been in at least 10 games, they have relatively strong averages ranging from .259 (Tyler White) to .346 (Jake Marisnick). Granted, they have stranded quite a few runners and grounded into several inning-ending double plays, but they have managed to flip the order over or get a clutch hit when it has counted to get the wins.

Starters doing their job

There hasn't been any complete-game shutouts or no-hitters (yet), but the starting rotation has been efficient and done plenty to keep Houston's offense close enough in games to erase deficits or extend leads. It looks like Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole will have another battle to see who can be strikeout leader on the team and possibly the American League; after four starts Cole is tied with Blake Snell on top of the board with 36 Ks while Verlander sits third with 30. As a team, the Astros sit fourth in the AL with a combined 3.25 ERA but have racked up 10 quality starts from their starters, which leads the entire league. It hasn't been all Verlander and Cole, either, with Collin McHugh proving to be a great number three so far. Wade Miley and Brad Peacock haven't had stellar starts to the year, and Peacock is spending a short stint in the bullpen to allow the other starters to work around some upcoming off-days in the schedule, but they have done enough to keep the team ahead or in striking distance.

Locked down bullpen

One of the strongest parts of this past week that may go under the radar with all of Houston's offense is the bullpen's strong performances against two potent lineups; the Yankees and Mariners. Josh James had a horrible inning in what was already a lopsided game, then the Mariners did get a couple of runs off Brad Peacock and Chris Devenski, but they otherwise held these offenses in check. Roberto Osuna has been hot to start the season, already notching seven saves. The late-game trio of Hector Rondon for the seventh, Ryan Pressly for the eighth, then Osuna for the save in the ninth has worked great in close games where the starter has gone six innings. But the relievers have been flexible and have plugged in well when called, whether that's a few innings to close out a close game, or eating multiple innings and holding a big lead.

Staying healthy

With Carlos Correa starting his season a few games late, and Alex Bregman getting a few days off this week with a minor hamstring issue, Houston has shown that they can handle a key player missing. This shows the depth of their bench that can fill in and contribute on both sides of the ball. What we haven't seen, and hopefully won't, is what the team would look like if they have two or more key injuries at one time. That was a trouble for the team last year, one they'd like to avoid if at all possible this season. For now, it's been great seeing a healthy Altuve at the plate and a strong Correa locking things down at shortstop.

Chance at history

With the winning streak currently at nine, the Astros could make history this week if they can tack on four more. The franchise record is twelve games, and the closest we've seen the Astros get to that recently was in 2017 when they hit eleven. They'll have two games in Oakland in the middle of the week, then will travel to Arlington for the weekend series. The way they've been playing, tying or beating the franchise record is certainly within reason against the A's and Rangers.

Best of the best

After sweeping what was the hottest team in baseball in the Mariners over the weekend, it's clear that the Astros are currently on the best streak. Are they also giving us a glimpse into what we may see in October? The Yankees were down a few players, and the Mariners can chalk the sweep up to an off weekend, but I'm not convinced that the recent displays by the Astros are a fluke. If they can stay healthy and play like this for the majority of the remaining season, and carry some momentum into the playoffs, I see this team matching and besting anyone they go up against. The most notable observation from these recent wins? They've simply been electric to watch. They are giving us what we enjoyed so much in 2017 which was the confidence that no matter the score, they can put a few big plays or hits together to pull out a win, and do it against anyone, anywhere.

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Houston now trails in the fall classic

Astros fall in World Series Game 1 as Braves come out swinging

Framber Valdez had a forgettable start in World Series Game 1 as the Braves tagged him with five runs. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

After a dominant end to win the ALCS and American League pennant, the Houston Astros welcomed in the National League champion Atlanta Braves for World Series Game 1 at Minute Maid Park on Tuesday. With Houston favored to win not just this game but the entire series, the Braves shook up those expectations by finding early success at the plate to build a lead they would hold to take a 1-0 series lead.

Final Score: Braves 6, Astros 2

World Series (Best of Seven): Atlanta leads 1-0

Winning Pitcher: A.J. Minter

Losing Pitcher: Framber Valdez

Valdez unable to replicate ALCS Game 5 success as Braves mount early lead

For the optimist, not having home-field advantage in an MLB postseason series affords you a benefit: you can score first and take captive momentum first in the series. The Braves did that against Framber Valdez, as Jorge Soler became the first player in league history to hit a homer in the first plate appearance of a World Series, putting Atlanta out to an immediate 1-0 lead. They would get another in the first frame, getting a one-out infield single by Ozzie Albies, who would steal second to get in position for an RBI double by Austin Riley.

Houston had the chance to respond in their first inning against former teammate Charlie Morton, getting a single and two walks to load the bases with no outs. They'd strand all three runners, though, as Morton made it through unscathed but having used 26 pitches. Atlanta kept putting stress on Valdez, extending their lead to three runs with back-to-back singles to start the second before later getting an RBI groundout.

Valdez gave up two more in the top of the third, once again allowing a leadoff single, this one setting up a two-run homer to make it a 5-0 Braves lead and forcing Houston's starter out of the game early. Yimi Garcia entered and was able to retire the three batters he faced to end the frame.

Braves lose Morton to injury as both bullpens begin long night

After stranding the bases loaded in the bottom of the first to keep the Astros off the board, Morton followed it up with a 1-2-3 second. He started the bottom of the third by retiring his fifth batter in a row, getting a strikeout of Jose Altuve. He would immediately call trainers to get him out of the game, though, as he would later be diagnosed with a fractured fibula, presumably from a ball that ricocheted off his leg in the prior inning, ending his season in a disappointing turn of events for the Braves.

That set up a long night for both bullpens, and next up for Houston was Jake Odorizzi. He started with a scoreless fourth, working around a two-out error to keep it a five-run game. The Astros began a rally in the bottom of the fourth, getting runners on the corners with one out on a Kyle Tucker double and Yuli Gurriel single. Chas McCormick brought in the first run of the board for Houston, but that's all they would get as Atlanta's lead remained four runs.

Astros drop Game 1

Odorizzi kept going on the mound, tossing a 1-2-3 fifth, then getting one out before a one-out single in the top of the sixth would prompt Dusty Baker to move on to Phil Maton, who finished the inning. Maton returned in the top of the seventh, getting a strikeout before a double and a walk would result in the call to bring in Ryne Stanek.

A double play against his first batter allowed Stanek to finish the seventh, and then he returned in the eighth. He faced three batters that frame, getting one out before a walk and a single would put runners on the corners as Houston moved on to Brooks Raley. A sac fly by Freddie Freeman off of Raley made it a five-run lead again, but a leadoff triple by Yordan Alvarez in the bottom of the inning would set up Carlos Correa for an RBI, a groundout to make it 6-2.

Atlanta's bullpen continued to do well, though, limiting the damage to that one run in the eighth, then returning to hold on to the four-run lead in the bottom of the ninth to give the Braves the upset win to start the series. The loss extends their home losing streak in the World Series to five games (having lost all four at home in the 2019 World Series against the Nationals) and puts them down 0-1 and in need of a win in Game 2 to try and reset the series into a best-of-five.

Up Next: World Series Game 2 will be another 7:09 PM Central scheduled start time on Wednesday from Minute Maid Park. The expected pitching matchup is Max Fried, who is 1-1 with a 3.78 ERA in three postseason starts, for the Braves, and Jose Urquidy, who went just 1.2 innings while allowing six runs (five earned) in his start in the ALCS.

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